Being apart during deployment is always a challenge, and holiday separations add another dimension. Fortunately, military families are resilient and resourceful. Rachel Robertson, educator, and author of Deployment Journal for Spouses (3rd edition) Memories and Milestones, and Deployment Journal for Kids, says creativity and planning can ensure a holiday season full of cheer, warmth, and cherished memories. She offers these ideas for families who are apart during the holidays:
Honor traditions. Don’t underestimate importance of continuity and beloved rituals in a time of change. Familiar celebrations are comforting. Modify if necessary when managing the holidays on your own, but keep some familiar traditions.
Start new traditions. Deployment may be a good time to try new ways to celebrate. For some children in military families, the usual celebrations seem sadder without mom or dad, while others may take comfort in them. Involve kids in family decisions about how to celebrate during holiday separations. Encourage their creativity, while being sensitive to their need for continuity.
Celebrate long distance. If possible, plan a video chat with the deployed parent/spouse during a family holiday party or dinner. Send care packages ahead of time with treats and decorations, if deployment conditions allow. Ask the deployed loved one to send a decoration from their location, if possible. The more unusual, the better!
Focus on the meaning of the holidays. Regardless of which holidays a family celebrates, all are enhanced by kindness, caring, love, and peace. Focus on the things to be grateful for instead of the things that are difficult.
Document the event. Take photos and videos. Take notes! Create a scrapbook of the holidays to share later. Kids and teens might enjoy taking photos or sharing creatively on social media. Don’t forget to use good operational security as needed.
Take care of yourself. While caring for children during deployment, it’s important for spouses at home to care for themselves too. Talk about feelings, spend time with friends; pay attention to good eating and sleeping habits.
Don’t be alone. Celebrate with other military families. Invite family to visit, or go to visit them. It is okay–in fact it is healthy–to ask for support.
Talk. Provide an open atmosphere for children and parents to share their feelings, modeling positive communication together. If the kids know Mom and Dad are sad, too — but are still able to be hopeful and happy — they will feel much better.
Spread the cheer. Reaching out to help someone else can shift the focus to the positive. Help a new military family, donate toys, visit a nursing home, or serve at the chow hall. Helping others is a healthy way to distract from loneliness and a great example for children.
For military families and children, life is full of change, new schools and neighborhoods, friends who move, and deployed parents. Holidays full of laughter, traditions old and new, and quality family time provide continuity in military life and memories to last a lifetime.
Rachel Robertson is an educator specializing in childhood development. Her series of journals for military families going through deployment, include Deployment Journal for Spouses (3rd Edition) Memories and Milestones, Deployment Journal for Parents, and Deployment Journal for Kids.